Tributes
 

 

TRIBUTES: PRAYERS FOR CORY
 

From the Homily at the Funeral Mass
 

by Catalino Arevalo, SJ
August 5, 2009
Manila Cathedral
 
"We give her back to You, with grateful but breaking hearts"
     
      IF I may, I will first ask pardon for what might be an unseemly
introduction. In the last days of President Cory's illness, when it seemed
inevitable that the end would come, the assignment to give this homily was
given to me by Kris Aquino. She reminded me that many times and publicly,
her mother had said she was asking me to preach at her funeral Mass. Always
I told her I was years older, and would go ahead of her, but she would just
smile at this. Those who knew Tita Cory knew that when she had made up her
mind, she had made up her mind.


      What then is my task this morning? I know for certain that if
liturgical rules were not what they are, she would have asked Congressman
Ted Locsin to be here in my place. No one has it in him to speak as
fittingly of Cory Aquino in the manner and measure of tribute she uniquely
deserves, no one else as he. Asked in an interview, she said that the
address before the two Houses of Congress at Washington she considered
perhaps the supreme shining moment of her life. We know who helped her with
those words with which she conquered America. These last few days, too,
every gifted writer in the press and other media has written on her person
and political history, analyzed almost every side of her life and
achievement as our own "icon of democracy". More powerfully even, images of
her and of Edsa Uno have filled hour after hour of TV time. Really, what
else is left to be said?



      SO, Tita Cory, you'll forgive me if I don't even try to give a shadow
of the great oration that should be given here this morning. Let me instead
try to say some things the people who persevered for hours on end in the
serried lines at Ortigas or here in Intramuros can (I hope) more easily
follow. This is a lowly tribute at one with "the old sneakers and clothes
made tighter by age, soaked by water and much worse for wear" of the men,
women and children who braved the rain and the sun because they wanted to
tell you, even for a brief and hurried moment, how much they love you. You
truly "now belong among the immortals". But these words are for those
mortals who with bruised hearts have lost "the mother of a people". Maybe
less elegantly than the seminarian said to me Monday, they would like to say
also: "She was the only true queen our people have ever had, and she was
queen because we knew she truly held our hearts in the greatness and the
gentleness of her own."



      One of my teachers used to tell us that if we really wanted to know
and understand a position held, we would have to learn it from someone fully
committed to it. Just as only one who genuinely loves a person, really knows
him or her also. So to begin with, I turned to three real "experts on Cory";
to ask them where for them the true greatness of Cory Aquino lay. My first
source thought it was in her selflessness, seen above all in her love of
country-surely above self; yes, even above family. Her self-giving, then,
for us; what she had received, all became gift for us. The second, thought
it was in her faith her greatness lay, in her total trust in God which was
also her greatest strength. And the third said it was in her courage and the
unshakable loyalty that went with it. It was a strength others could lean
on; it never wavered; it never broke....Cory's selflessness and self-giving;
her faith (the Holy Father just called it "unwavering"); her courage, her
strength. May I use this short list to frame what I will say?



      O, let me name my experts now, if I may. They were three, all of them
women close to her: Maria Elena Aquino Cruz, whom we know as Ballsy, Maria
Aurora Aquino Abellada, Pinky to her friends; and Victoria Elisa Aquino Dee,
Viel to the family. Kris and Noynoy are the public figures; they can speak
for themselves. I hope they will forgive me that I did not ask.



      First, selflessness



      First, then, her generous selflessness. For us this morning what is
surely most to the point is her love of country. When her final illness was
upon her already, she said-most recently at the Greenmeadows chapel (her
last public words, I think)-that she was offering her suffering, first to
God, then for our people. I heard that grandson Jiggy asked her why first
for country and people, and she said that always the priority line-up was
God, our country and our people, and then family. On radio, the other night,
the commentator asked an old woman in line why she stood hours in the rain
to get into La Salle. "Ito lang ang maibibigay ko po sa kanya, bilang
pasasalamat." "Bakit, ano ba ang ibinigay ni Cory sa inyo?" "Di po ba ang
buhay nya? Ang buong sarili nya? At di po ba ang pag-asa? Kaya mahal na
mahal po namin siya." Early on, on TV, they ran many times the clip from a
last interview. She says, "I thank God, and then all of you, for making me a
Filipino, for making me one of you. I cherish this as one of the truly great
gifts I have received." A few weeks from her death, she could say that;
without put-on or the least insincerity. "I thank you, for making me one of
you."

      Her selflessness, her self-gift. Pope Benedict likes to say that the
God whom Jesus Christ revealed to us, is Father. A Father who is wholly
self-gift; the God "whose nature is to give Himself"-to give Himself to us,
in His Son. And, the Pope says, that is what is the meaning of Jesus and the
life of Jesus, and, by discipleship, what the Christian's life is meant to
be. We Christians, too, we must give ourselves away in the self-giving of
love.

      "Ang buhay po nya at sarili. Kaya po mahal na mahal namin sya." In the
last days, when finally and reluctantly still she admitted she had much
pain, I kept thinking that only a couple of weeks before, for the first time
publicly, she said that she was offering it up first of all for us.



      Second, her faith



      Second, her faith. Pinky says, it was her mother's greatest strength;
it was what was deepest in her. Her faith was her bedrock, and it was,
bedrock. Frederick Buechner the ordained minister and novelist likes to say
that through his lifetime, he's had many doubts, even deep doubt, daily
doubts. "But I have never really looked down into the deep abyss and seen
only nothing. Somehow I have known, that underneath all the shadows and the
darkness, there are the everlasting arms." I think Cory's faith was like
that, not in the multiplicity of doubts (even if, in a life so filled with
trial, there surely were doubts too), but in the certainty of the
everlasting arms. More than once she told me, "Every time life painted me
into a corner, with seemingly no escape, I always turned to Him in trust. I
knew He would never abandon us if we trusted in Him. And you know, somehow,
He found a way out for us." And so Pinky says, "Mom was always calm even in
the most trying times. She trusted God would always be there for us, She was
our source of strength. She made this world seem so much safer and less
cruel for us. And now that our source of strength is gone, we have to make
our faith something more like hers. But we know in our hearts that in every
storm she will watch over us from heaven."



      Devotion to Mary



      Within this faith was her devotion to Mary, the place Our Lady of
Fatima and the rosary held in her life. All we can say on this, this morning
is that Our Lady truly had a special, living presence in her life: Mary was,
for Cory, true mother and incomparable friend; as we say in the hymn-vita,
dulcedo et spes: life, sweetness and hope. No, Mary was not the center of
her faith, but its air, its atmosphere; and the rosary, her lifeline through
every trial and crisis. In the long harsh months of her illness, Sister
Lucia's beads almost never left her hands. She was holding them, as last
Saturday was dawning and her years of exile were at last done, when we know
her Lady "showed unto her, the blessed fruit of her womb."



      Third, courage



      Lastly, her courage, her strength. Her children tell us that their
father was only able to do what he wanted to do, because her loyalty and her
support for his purposes was total, so she practically raised them up as a
single parent. Ninoy himself wrote, again and again, that he endured
imprisonment and persecution, leaning so much on her courage and love. And
after his death, when she could have withdrawn in a way "safely" to her own
life with her children at last, she stayed on her feet and fought on in the
years that followed, through the snap elections and what went before and
after them, through her presidency and the seven coup attempts which tried
to bring her down. Even after she had given up her rule, could she not have
said "enough", and we would all have understood? But with not the least
desire for position or power again, whenever she thought the spaces of
freedom and the true good of our land were threatened, she went back to the
streets of struggle again. Once again she led us out of the apathy we so
readily fall into; once again she called us out of our comfort zones to the
roads of sacrifice.



      Purity of heart



      Here, even hesitantly, may I add one trait, one virtue, to those her
daughters have named? One day Cardinal Stephen Kim of South Korea asked if
he might visit her. Through Ballsy, she said yes. It was a day Malacañang
was "closed"; they were making up the roster of members of the forthcoming
Constitutional Convention. Someone from the palace staff ordered us turned
away when we came; it was Ballsy who rescued us. Stephen Kim, hero and saint
to his own people-perhaps, along with Cardinal Sin, one the two greatest
Asian Catholic prelates of our time-spent some 45 minutes talking with her.
When we were on our way back, he said, "I know why the Lord has entrusted
her with power, at this most difficult time...It is because she is pure of
heart. She has no desire for power; even now it is with reluctance she takes
it on. And she has done this only because she wants to do whatever she can
for your people." He said, "She truly moves me by the purity of her spirit.
God has given a great gift to your people."



      With this purity of heart, in the scheme of the Christian Gospel,
there is joined another reality which really, only the saints understand. It
is suffering. How often (it is really often; over and over through the
years) she spoke of suffering as part of her life. Much contemporary
spirituality speaks of suffering almost as the epitome of all evil. But in
fact for all the saints, it is a mystery they themselves do not really
understand nor really explain, Yet they accept it quietly, simply as part of
their lives in Christ. There is only one painting she ever gave me. Kris
said then, when her mom gave it to me, that it was her mom's favorite. The
painting carries 1998 as its date; Cory named it "Crosses and roses." There
are seven crosses for the seven months and seven weeks of her beloved
Ninoy's imprisonment, and for the seven attempted coups during her
presidency, and many roses, multicolored roses all around them. At the back
of the painting, in her own hand, she wrote a haiku of her own: "Crosses and
roses/ make my life more meaningful./ I cannot complain." Often she spoke of
her "quota of suffering." When she spoke of her last illness, she said: "I
thought I had filled up my quota of suffering, but it seems there is no
quota. I look at Jesus, who was wholly sinless: how much suffering he had to
bear for our sake." And in her last public talk (it was at Greenmeadows
chapel), the first time she spoke of her own pain: "I have not asked for it,
but if it is meant to be part of my life still, so be it. I will not
complain." "I try to join it with Jesus's pain and offering. For what it's
worth, I am offering it up for our people." Friends here present, I tell you
honestly I hesitated before going into this, this morning. But without it,
part of the real Cory Aquino would be kept from view. Quite simply, this was
integral to the love she bore for her people.



      Thanks to her children



      AT this point, may I, following the lead Mr. Rapa Lopa has given, just
speak a word of thanks to President Cory's children, who shared so much of
her service and her sacrifice. They have almost never had their father and
mother for themselves. For so many years, they have been asked to share
Ninoy and Cory with all of us. And because of the blood and the spirit their
parents have passed on to them, they too gave with generosity and grace the
sacrifices we demanded of them. Ballsy and Pinky, Viel and Kris, your
husbands and your children, and Senator Noynoy, may we thank you this
morning from all our hearts, and may we offer also the gratitude of the
hearts of a people now forever in your debt.



      I have used up all my time, some of you will say, and I have not even
approached the essential: her political life, that she was our nation's
unique icon of democracy, that Cory Aquino who is know throughout the world;
was TIME magazine's 1986's woman of the year; she who led the ending of the
dictatorship that had ruined our nation, the bearer of liberation, of
freedom, and of hope for a prostrate people.



      So, by your leave, may I add one item, along this line at last. In
October 1995, Milano's Catholic University, conferred on her the doctorate
honoris causa in the political sciences (incidentally, only her twenty-third
honorary degree). This was only the fifth time this particular one had been
given since the university's inception: the first time to an Asian, the
first ever to a woman. She wanted, at the end of her lectio magistralis, to
spell out, perhaps for the first time with some explicitness and
completeness, her personal political creed. She listed seven basic beliefs
which, regarding political life , she said she tried to live by. Then she
spoke of one more, "one more I may not omit." Perhaps the paragraph which
followed is worth citing here, even without comment, because it has
something to say to our present hour.



      (We cite her words now.) "I believe that the vocation of politics must
be accepted by those who take up the service of leadership as a vocation in
its noblest meaning: it demands all of life. For the life of one who would
lead his or her people-in our time as never before-such a life must strive
for coherence with the vision aspired to, or else that vision itself and its
realization are already betrayed. That vision must itself be present, in
some authentic way, in those who seek to realize it: present, in the witness
of their example; present, in a purity of heart vis-à-vis the exercise and
usages of power; present, in an ultimate fidelity to principle, in a
dedication that is ready to count the cost in terms of 'nothing less than
everything.' It is Cardinal Newman, I believe, who said that in this world,
we do good only in the measure that we pay for it in the currency of our own
lives. For us Christians, there is always the image of Jesus, and the price
his service demanded of him. And for me there has been, as a constant
reminder, the sacrifice my husband offered, and the word that it has spoken,
to me and my people." (Cory Aquino, end of citation)



      Conclusion



      With all this said, I am done. Ma'am, tapos na po ang assignment ko.
It has been so hard to do what you asked. But I comfort myself that these so
many words really do not matter. What counts in the end is really-what all
this week has been; these past few days' outpouring of our people's
gratitude and love; what will come after all this today; what we will do, in
the times ahead, in fidelity to your gift. I received a text last night from
a man of some age and with some history behind him. "She made me proud
again, to be Filipino." Maybe that says it all. Cardinal Sin used to put it
somewhat differently. "What a gift God has given our people, in giving Cory
Aquino to us." The nobility and courage of your spirit, the generosity of
your heart, the grace and graciousness that accompanied you always. They
called it "Cory magic"-but it was the truth, and the purity and beauty,
clear and radiant within you, that we saw. And the hope that arose from
that. And when the crosses came to you and you did not refuse to bear them,
more to be one with your Christ and one with your people and their pain.
"Blessed are the pure of heart; for they shall see God."



      Thank You Father in heaven, for your gift to us of Cory Aquino. Thank
You that she passed once this way through our lives with the grace You gave
her to share with us. If we give her back to you, we do it with hearts of
thanksgiving, but now, oh, with breaking hearts also, because of the
greatness and beauty of the gift which she was for us, the likes of which,
perhaps, we shall not know again. Salamat po, Tita Cory, mahal na mahal po
namin kayo.

 

 

 

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